Published on April 18th, 2014 | by Brad0
The Amazing Spider-Man 2 – A Film Review
With hoopla, fanfare and a seemingly never-ending campaign of trailers determined to show every little detail of the plot before you’ve seen the damn thing, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 finally swung into cinemas on Wednesday. Freed from the constraints of retelling the origin, the trailers here seemed to suggest a “Y’know what? Let’s throw in the kitchen fixtures and furnishings as well, just to be sure” approach to proceedings, with three villains (four if you count Chris Cooper’s Norman Osborn), teases for two more in the future, and Gwen Stacy wearing a famous outfit with significant implications.
It’s perhaps no surprise, then, that the film suffers under the weight of all the elements they’re throwing at it. It’s at least 20 minutes too long, and for a film that has so much thrown in, it’s extraordinarily baggy in parts. The “what happened to my parents?” storyline which I hated so much in the first film rears its ugly head again, and drives Peter’s motivation for much of the film, despite the fact that there are at least two people who he knows want to kill him, one of whom has superpowers and very nearly beat him the first time they fought. If the “Whatever happened to Richard and Mary Parker?” subplots had been cut from both of these films, you would have two much tighter, more enjoyable flicks.
For what it’s worth, Andrew Garfield plays these scenes extremely well, as he does every other scene in the film. The dude just is Spider-Man in this. The costume looks a lot better, pretty much identical to his comic-book counterpart at this point, taking advantage over Tobey Maguire by the fact that Garfield is actually built like Spider-Man. We finally get to see more of him in the daytime in this one, after a lot of nocturnal activity in the first, and he cracks wise like no one’s business. Every character beat with Spidey and Peter both, the film nails.
Emma Stone, too, is once again basically flawless as Gwen. Her relationship with Peter is a lot more complex this time out, after what happened to her father at the end of the first film, but once again there’s a lot more to Gwen than just damsel in distress. She’s the emotionally mature one in this relationship, and it’s Peter who can’t cope when she walks out on him early on. Once again, she plays a major part in the final battle with the villain, and Stone’s charm and personality shine through. If I have a complaint, it’s Denis Leary occasionally popping up and mugging for the camera as the disapproving ghost of George Stacy. It’s distracting, unnecessary, and another element that could have been cut from the film. We know Peter promised the captain that he would keep Gwen out of it, and we know he feels guilty that he can’t keep that promise as he loves Gwen too much; we don’t need that spelt out by Denis Leary popping up every 15 minutes to look sternly at him.
The three villains shown in the trailer are Rhino (Paul Giamatti), Electro (Jamie Foxx) and Harry Osborn as Green Goblin (Dane DeHaan). The fact that I can tell you about Goblin and Rhino and not feel bad about spoiling it points to a failing in the marketing for this film. We don’t see Harry as the Goblin until the last 20 minutes or so, and we don’t see Aleksei Sytsevich in his Rhino armour until about two minutes from the end. These should be surprises. They should not have been all over the posters and trailers.
As is, Dane DeHaan as Harry is one of the film’s stronger elements. His scene with his father is well-played, and his downfall feels legitimate and earned. He has good chemistry with Garfield, and I felt their confrontation at the end was well-executed. I’ll go into more detail – and spoilers – down at the bottom. Paul Giamatti as Sytsevich is a joy. Normally a restrained, quiet presence, it’s a delight to see Giamatti when he gets to cut loose and just devour the scenery like this. I worry when it comes to future films that, with extended screen time, the character may become overbearing, but as is, he’s a lot of fun.
There was no way all three villains were going to work, though, and it’s ostensibly the chief villain who falls short. Electro is one of the most pointless, ineffectual villains I’ve seen in a movie in years. Hampered by an uncharacteristically dreadful performance from Jamie Foxx, this guy make’s Topher Grace as Venom look like a good villain. Don’t get me wrong, the action sequences in Times Square and at the power plant do look cool, but what does he actually achieve, narrative-wise? He’s literally a two-hour placeholder whilst Harry undergoes his transformation, and could easily have been replaced by a longer subplot for Giamatti and making the film about half an hour shorter, pruning it very desperately needs. As a downtrodden nobody, with a frustrated, brilliant mind, suddenly given incredible power, Electro could have been a great dark mirror to Peter. As is, he’s a damp squib, and you find yourself checking your watch a fair bit during his scenes. Foxx is horribly miscast, and he seems to get the two sides of the character arc mixed up. In his pre-accident scenes as Max Dillon, he’s twitchy, weird and a little bit crazy; certainly not an unnoticeable figure. Post-metamorphosis, he’s dull, monotonous, and impossible to care about. Speaking of metamorphosis, incidentally, there’s a whole segment where his transformation is being studied by a German named Kafka. Putting the B in subtle, right there.
There is a lot to like about Amazing Spider-Man 2, but it’s seriously problematic. By trying to do too much, they’ve made a film that feels baggy and undercooked. Garfield, Stone and DeHaan are great in their roles, and in a tighter film this would have been a great story for them. The action sequences are great, the effects are top notch, and I can’t stress enough how perfectly Spider-Man himself was handled. However, the lacklustre chief villain, overegged plot, and lack of cohesion and direction pull everything down. It’s not a bad film, per se, but it’s certainly not a good one either.
And now, in keeping with the spirit of the film, I’m going to go beyond the logical conclusion point and quickly cram in a bit of legendary Spider-Man lore. From this point onwards, there are major spoilers. Fair warning.
In the immediate aftermath of Electro’s defeat, we get our first look at Goblin Harry. He swoops in and, upon seeing that Gwen is there with Spider-Man, immediately deduces Peter’s secret identity. And, as he believes Spider-Man has taken his hope away, he decides to take away Peter’s. He grabs Gwen and flies away, leading to the fight inside the clock tower that we’ve seen in the trailer, and Gwen’s fateful fall. Gwen’s story in the film has been pretty much yelling “I’m going to die!”, but in terms of the action on show, it almost feels like The Night Gwen Stacy Died has been tacked on at the end as an afterthought. In isolation, it’s extremely well-executed, and the three principals play it beautifully, but in the haphazard structure of the film, it’s just another vignette. It’s a shame. Like the rest of the film, there’s great potential, but it feels a bit squandered.